Privacy, security & risk

The Data Digest: Facebook’s Heaviest Users Are Concerned About Online Privacy But Fail To Act Accordingly

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April 17, 2018

I would like to introduce myself as a new member of Forrester Data’s data science team. Before joining Forrester, I studied economics at McGill University, where I developed a skillset in quantitative analysis and knowledge of the incentive-driven behaviors fueling today’s consumer-driven economy. I am excited to utilize what I’ve learned in my studies to research consumer behavior at Forrester.

Being a Gen Zer, I must admit that I am a social media addict. My ritual starts each morning by scrolling through Instagram before leaving my bed, followed by a Facebook check while brushing my teeth. Naturally, the recent Facebook scandal made me reflect on my Facebook use and wonder if I should cut down or even stop using Facebook altogether. While the thought was fleeting and my social media usage continued like clockwork, it did inspire curiosity that led me to explore Forrester Data’s Consumer Technographics North American Online Benchmark Surveys, 2018. I homed in on Facebook’s heaviest users, seeking a better understanding of these consumers and their use of the social media platform. What I found was a dramatic contradiction between their attitudes toward online privacy and their actual behaviors.

Before exploring those attitudes and behaviors, it’s useful to know who we are talking about. Our data shows that 21% of US online adults report using Facebook constantly, and 61% report using it at least daily. This is a massive segment of the population. And the heaviest users aren’t all Millennials: While 33% of those who use Facebook constantly are below the age of 29, 38% are 40 or older. Women are more represented in this group than men: 61% of those who report constant Facebook use are female.

Now let’s return to their attitudes and behaviors regarding online privacy. Facebook’s heaviest users tend to be highly aware of and concerned about online privacy issues, but their behaviors directly contradict this stated concern. Of those who use Facebook constantly throughout the day, 71% are aware that their online information is tracked by companies, 79% are uncomfortable with companies sharing and selling their information, and only 29% trust Facebook to keep their information secure. Meanwhile, their behavior regarding online privacy is much more cavalier. Just 49% of those who constantly use Facebook say that they take active measures to limit the collection of their personal information by apps and websites; only 37% read a company’s privacy policy before completing an online transaction or downloading an app; and only 47% are likely to cancel an online transaction if they don’t like the privacy policy. For these consumers, such lackadaisical behavior toward online privacy fails to align with their stated concern for online privacy.

This snapshot of Facebook’s heaviest users reveals several interesting characteristics. These aren’t marginal consumers — they represent just over a fifth of the US population. They come from all age groups, not just younger generations. And, most interestingly, they report a high degree of concern about and awareness of online privacy issues despite behaviors suggesting the opposite. This contradiction between their concerns about online privacy and their behaviors regarding it is being tested to its limits by the latest Facebook scandal. But how long can this situation go on? Will Facebook users soon wake up and act on their concerns for online privacy? Only time will tell, but we will continue to monitor and analyze what Facebook users do over time.

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